About a year ago, I had gone to Tamhini Ghat near Pune with a group of rappellers. The small hillock on which the 250-foot-high peak is located has a motorable road around its periphery. We scaled the peak the night we got to the base village.
While preparing to rappel down the peak the next morning, we knew we would have to be careful in choosing our route, since this region wasn’t as well-explored as some others in the Sahyadris. But we were keen to rappel down because there was a small pond at the base of the valley.
The harness that you wear while rappelling has a long, thick rope passing through it. One end of the rope is tied to a boulder on the peak and the other end is with the person we call the “controller”. A controller is usually an experienced rappeller who goes down first and ensures that the path is clear of obstacles. Since I was the controller, I secured my harness, crosschecked the knots and set off.
Some 20 feet into the descent, I reached a steep overhang in the rock face. I hadn’t anticipated this. I looked down to see if I could take another route to minimise the impact of the swing. But just as I was contemplating changing tracks, I saw a huge swarm of buzzing insects. They’d made an eight-foot-wide hive at the exact point where the rock face curved inward. I would have to keep really quiet and definitely take another route to avoid disturbing them.
I scampered across the rock face and began inching back towards the overhang. I should have realised that losing foothold would make me swing anyway. Despite my prayers, I swayed from right to left, and my rope collided head on with the swarm of small black insects and honeybees.
The river was still a good 200-odd feet below me. I couldn’t let go of the rope since I didn’t have an anchor to control my fall. So I stayed put, and let the insects go on a rampage.
They attacked me in huge numbers and stung me in every possible place. I brushed off as many as I could, and kept descending slowly. I had a walkie-talkie and a few other gadgets, that I swung down to the riverbed before plunging into the river. I was safe, but the damage had been done.
My body ached from the stings, and I developed rashes all over. I told the others about my experience, and advised them to take another route down. I did what anyone else in my place would have done. I knew that hanging on to the rope was more important than giving in to the pain. That motivated me to keep going.
(As told to Aalap Deboor)